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It’s a reality reminiscent of a science fiction film about the disasters of climate change: heat waves shattering records, fires forcing evacuations, warnings from public officials to seek shelter. But as global weather patterns shift at a rapid pace, scenes once reserved for the silver screen are increasingly becoming commonplace.
On Wednesday, 110 million Americans faced temperatures the National Weather Service warned “will increase the risk of heat related illness”.
In Boston, mayor Michelle Wu refused to mince words as she called climate change “a risk to our health”. New York’s Governor told the state’s residents to “check on neighbors”, as other state officials urged people to “stay indoors”.
In Oklahoma, the high temperatures have caused issues with the state’s water supply. In Wagoner County, a suburb of Tulsa, officials are urging some residents to conserve their water usage as reserves dwindle.
“It’s triple digits. I mean we’re dealing with decades-high temperatures. No rain in sight” a Wagoner County resident told Tulsa’s News on 6. “Without rain and [with] continued heat, I’m nervous that the problem could get worse.”
Heat wave takes over North Africa
In North Africa, for countries like Tunisia that are accustomed to warmer temperatures, the heat wave is devastating their country’s grain harvest.
“Tunisia has endured a heatwave and fires that have damaged the country’s grain crop,” according to Nasa’s Earth Observatory. “On July 13 in the capital city of Tunis, the temperature reached 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit), breaking a 40-year record.”
Extreme heat and “megablaze” fires destroy homes, kill thousands in Europe
Across the Atlantic, Europe also finds itself in the grips of a devastating heat wave. Soaring triple-digit temperatures on the Iberian Peninsula have already taken a horrific toll. Nearly 2000 people died of heat related illness in Portugal and Spain between July 7 and July 18th.
As the heat wave conditions spread over Northern and Central Europe, fires easily ignited on already dry brush.
In London, blazes destroyed more than 40 homes as the fire department clocked its “busiest day since the second world war”.
“Normally we get 350 calls a day, on a busy day we can get up to 500 calls,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan told BBC News. “Yesterday, the fire service had more than 2,600 calls.”
Fires caused by the heat wave also ravaged areas of Western and Southern France in what officials there called an “unprecedented” event.
Grégory Allione, the president of France’s National Federation of Firefighters, called the fires that forced tens of thousands to flee their homes “a megablaze”.
Allione told the New York Times the number and size of the fires was “simply unprecedented”.
“But what’s really worrying,” he continued, “is that all the future summers could be like this one.”
US struggles to act as climate crisis rapidly worsens and heat waves, extreme weather intensifies
The latest life-threatening heat wave comes as efforts to fight climate change once again falter in the US Senate. Senate Democrats believed they were on track to pass a funding measure to address the climate crisis. However, those hopes faded when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) abruptly backed out of negotiations.
Angered by Manchin’s efforts to stall action, environmental policy leaders were quick to voice their disdain.
“There truly aren’t words for how appalled, outraged and disappointed we are,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, legislative director at the League of Conservation Voters.
Sittenfeld said Manchin “chose to stand with polluters” and urged the Senator to “reconsider”, adding “our children’s future depends on it.”
Following news of Manchin’s decision, President Joe Biden announced he would take executive action to address the climate crisis.
At an event in Massachusetts, Biden called climate change “an emergency” as millions sweltered in the latest heat wave.
“I have a responsibility to act with urgency and resolve when our nation faces clear and present danger,” Biden said. “[Climate change] is literally, not figuratively, a clear and present danger. The health of our citizens in our communities is literally at stake.”
The President announced he would direct the federal government to intervene. Biden is allocating billions of dollars to help communities enhance “resilient infrastructure”. This includes cooling centers and air conditioning in low-income communities. Yet, the president failed to declare a climate emergency as many activists and concerned residents had hoped.
While Biden’s efforts will help mitigate the effects of climate change, it will take significant legislative action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Without an immediate and dramatic reduction in carbon emissions, experts warn it will be difficult to prevent a worst-case-scenario as the planet continues to rapidly warm.